State budget impasse leaves counties in dark

Local governments remain in the dark on how much money to expect from the state after legislators deadlocked on Medicaid expansion and failed last week to agree on a budget.

The uncertainty could last for at least a month for local officials. Gov. Ralph Northam signed a proclamation Tuesday calling for legislators to convene a special session beginning April 11 to complete their work on the state budget.

In the meantime, county boards of supervisors and city and town councils continue to deliberate their own budgets for fiscal 2019, closing in on local deadlines to pick tax rates and hold public hearings on their spending proposals. While property taxes make up the bulk of the revenue for cities, counties and towns, localities do rely on state funding for certain agencies, salaries for many constitutional offices and public schools.

The General Assembly adjourned Saturday without passing budgets for the rest of fiscal 2018 and the 2018-2020 biennium and making an unsuccessful attempt to adopt a joint resolution to set up a special session. This marks the sixth time in 17 years the General Assembly failed to adopt a budget during its regular session, according to information from the Virginia Municipal League. The General Assembly now leaves it up to Gov. Ralph Northam to schedule the special session.

The Virginia Municipal League has advised its member localities to remain “extremely conservative” in the revenue projections based on the budgets introduced in the state legislature and to prepare for major changes, according to Executive Director Michelle Gowdy.

“So I would say that every day that goes by without a state budget leaves localities with uncertainty as they begin their budget processes, advertise tax rates and negotiate yearly contracts,” Gowdy stated in an email Tuesday.

Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors met Tuesday afternoon for another work session on the fiscal 2019 budget. The agenda for the session included a discussion about funding requests from state and outside agencies. County Administrator Mary T. Price said the issue of the General Assembly and the state budget did not come up during the work session. The county is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget on April 5. The board could take action on the budget at a special meeting April 17.

Warren County supervisors continue to work on a budget and hold their next work session March 20. The board plans to hold the public hearing on the proposed budget April 10. Supervisors could adopt the budget as early as the board’s April 17 meeting, County Administrator Doug Stanley said Tuesday.

“If (legislators) don’t have a budget by then, the county will make some budget assumptions in order to get an adopted budget by the deadline of May 1st for us to deliver an adopted budget to the School Board,” Stanley said.

Del. Gwendolyn “Wendy” W. Gooditis, D-Boyce, whose district covers part of Frederick County, commented Tuesday on the impasse created over the proposed Medicare expansion approved by the House of Delegates but not the state Senate.

“As disappointing as it is that the Senate decided not to pass a budget that contains the expansion of health care, I still believe it is the right thing to do and I believe that the Senate will ultimately see that,” Gooditis said. “The budget that the House passed would mean huge savings for Virginians and we hope that the Senate will pass the budget so that Virginians can benefit from these savings.”